"Hats off Gentlemen! a genius!"
This is how the German composer/pianist Robert Schumann introduced Frederic Chopin, (virtuoso pianist and composer) to Germany in the 1800's, in his music paper. And although I don't claim to be Robert Schumann, or that Tom Hess is simply Chopin reincarnate, I think the saying applies to him too.
Despite all of the music being composed by Tom Hess, "Hess" also features Mike Walsh, who has a noticeably different playing style to bring to the table. Together they create rich harmony solos throughout Opus 1. Chris Dowgun takes care of the drums with double bass drum prowess. Tom completes the equation by adding keyboards, which gives the album and progressive/neo-classical sound. You can order Opus 1 directly from their web site (www.hess.4t.com), or from http://www.guitar9.com/.
Exploration, the first track on Opus one, begins with a cool chugging rhythm and ethereal keyboards before Tom kick the song into gear with some spacey virtuosic guitar lines. Both Tom Hess's and Mike Walsh's guitar playing are stunning, virtuosic, soulful, and interesting. The harmony solos at the 1:17 and 2:00 minute mark are really soulful. The song slows down in the middle for some clean-toned lines but speeds up again in time for the end.
This track starts off with a richly harmonized solo over a gallop rhythm maintained by the bass and drums. This same theme is repeated later on in the song. At 44 seconds Tom really rips up the fret board with an arpeggio sequence. There are lots of little repeated themes and variations to all of the songs in this CD, and this song is another great example of them.
Phoenix rising is a defining song for Hess. It starts out with some progressive sounding, slow tempo, heavy riffs. The guitar soloing is always interesting, soulful, and clean. The dynamics of this song changes a lot, from an over-all soft sound to a heavier one and back again. The guitar tone is heavily overdriven with endless sustain but there is no sloppy playing at all.
Tom really goes all out in the shredding department for this song. Lots of fast arpeggio and pedal tone work, and a lot of harmonized playing. There are a few emotional bends and held notes, but for the most part this song is extreme neo-classical shred. Despite the super fast playing, you never get the feeling Hess is just playing through random scale sequences, there is a lot of emotional power to their fast playing as well as their slow playing.
Modes of Expression
Hess comes back to the progressive shred style with this track. They actually kick out the acoustic guitar for some rhythms in this song, taking the roll of the heavy progressive riffs for once in the song. Their playing is so emotional it hurts, and it is really climatic with tons of harmonies.
This song really stands out from the first 5 tracks because it primarily consists of slower melodies, with no heavy rhythm guitar in the background. Hess really knows how to structure a song. They use lots of repeated themes and variations, but manage to never sound repetitive. They also manage to sneak a few super fast shred licks into the tune without making them seem out of place. The shredding really adds a lot of passion to the music.
This tune starts out with a cool keyboard part, but then all hell breaks loose with a chugging rhythm and some insane shredding. I really like the drumming on this track too, lots of double bass and drum fills. Once again you can expect some catchy repeated lines, and some beautiful sustained notes to go along with the shred fest.
Through Space and Time
This track starts out with more heavy progressive sounding riffs and some cool harmony solos. Some of the soloing on this track sounds incredibly spacey and progressive; it is definitely less neoclassical then some other tracks on this CD
I really love this track; it has a real sense of grandeur to it. The main theme is very fast and technical but really emotional at the same time. The repeated phrases around the 2:00 mark are intensely emotional as well. This track is very neo-classical.
On The Brink
The first time I heard this track I was totally amazed at Hess's compositional skills. This nearly nine-minute track is almost worth the cost of the CD itself. It is a very dynamic tune with some intensely emotional climatic moments and some calming quieter moments as well, with a short nylon string guitar lead section.
Queen of Me
This track starts out with some nylon stringed guitar leads over some beautiful keyboard accompaniment. The nylon stringed part is entirely melodic without any technical playing, but the melody is very interesting throughout When the electric leads come in around halfway through the song, Tom continues to show his slow, soulful side for the rest of the tune. His vibrato and bends are very powerful and emotional. This tune has enough soul to make any blues guitarist bow his head in shame.
Palette of Shades
This track starts out with a cool flute-toned keyboard part, before the spacey, organ-like keyboards cut in. Once again the nylon-stringed guitar is featured at the start, but the electric leads come in sooner this time. The tempo stays at a pretty slow pace for the length of the song.
Tom Hess is an amazing composer and guitarist who's influences include Johannes Brahms, J.S Bach, King Diamond, Dream Theater, Yngwie Malmsteen, George Bellas, Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, and above all Frederic Chopin. Hess skillfully combines the neoclassicism of Yngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker, and the progressiveness of Dream Theater and George Bellas with the 19'th century Romanticism of composers like Chopin and Brahms. This is easily seen by his stunning yet tasteful use of technical shredding to impassion his music.
Their music features harmony runs galore, ethereal keyboards, emotional melodies, progressive and heavy riffs, and excellent composition. Both guitarists Tom Hess and Mike Walsh have amazing technical and musical skills, and styles distinctly their own. Chris Dowgun, on drums, also does an excellent job, with lots of double bass playing, although the sound of the drum kit is a little thin.
Overall, this is my absolute favorite CD.